Israel ranks above Spain, Italy and US for democracy in new global index

The news comes just weeks after Amnesty International's widely criticised report


(L to R) Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett give a joint press conference at the Government Press Office (GPO) in Jerusalem on November 6, 2021. - Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, fresh off passing a two-year budget that stabilises his coalition, is poised for a standoff with the Biden adminstration that aims to reopen an office for Palestinians in Jerusalem. (Photo by Ohad Zwigenberg / POOL / AFP) (Photo by OHAD ZWIGENBERG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

In a “stunning rebuttal” to Amnesty’s claim that Israel is an apartheid state, the country has been ranked above Italy, Spain and the United States in a respected global index of democratic values.

Published this week, the latest edition of the annual Democracy Index from the prestigious Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) puts Israel in 23rd place in the world league table, out of 167.

It has 7.97 points out of a maximum of ten, just behind France (7.99 points) and Britain (8.1 points).

The result makes Israel by far the most democratic country in the Middle East, but also places it ahead of Spain, Portugal, Italy and the United States. 

The world’s most democratic country is Norway, which the EIU awards 9.75 points. China comes in 148th with just 2.21 points and the bottom three are North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

The survey comes in the wake of a speech last weekend by the Arab MK and Israeli coalition minister Mansour Abbas at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), in which he warned it was wrong to use the term “apartheid” to describe Israel. He said: “I prefer to describe the reality in objective ways… I’m not trying to say you’re racist or the state is racist, or this is an apartheid state My role as a political leader is to try to bridge the gaps.”

The top US diplomat responsible for the Middle East until January 2021, David Schenker, last night welcomed the EIU report. The former Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs said it amounts to a “stunning rebuttal” of Amnesty International’s recent claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” and has been since its foundation in 1948.

Now a senior fellow at WINEP, Mr Schenker said the EIU report “is entirely consistent with what Mansour Abbas told us here the other day – Israel is a country of its citizens.” He said: “The intention of those who say Israel is an apartheid state is to make it a pariah, and if you say this has been the case since 1948, you are saying it never had the right to exist. 

“The rhetoric has been around a long time. Given the unprecedented participation of Arab Israelis in the political system, repeating it now seems very ill timed.” The EIU report presents a stark picture of the countries surrounding Israel, writing: “The Middle East and North Africa region remains the lowest ranked of all the regions covered in the Democracy Index, with five countries of the 20 in the region featuring in the bottom 20 in our global ranking. Even from such a low base the average regional score declined further in 2021.”

However, the report goes on: “That said, the picture is not uniformly negative across the region, owing to positive trends in Israel, where an Arab party is in government for the first time as a minor player in a wide-ranging coalition.”

The EIU has divided countries into several categories, of which the two highest are “full democracy” and “flawed democracy”, according to a 60-item checklist which gives scores for their electoral processes, the functioning of government, political participation and political culture.

Under this system, Israel counts as the region’s only “flawed” democracy, just below the lowest-ranked full democracies. Its score has improved steadily from the 7.28 points awarded in 2006.  Israel’s closest regional rival is Tunisia, ranked 75th in the world, with just 5.99 points.

Iran gets 1.95 points and Syria 1.43. The Palestinian Occupied Territories are fourth in the region, behind only Israel, Tunisia and Morocco.

With 7.85 points, the US is also classed as a flawed democracy, along with France, Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Owned by the Economist magazine, the EIU is a high-profile international business and politics analysis group, which has bases in the UK, US, Dubai and Hong Kong.

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